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Pro-Israel lobbyists accused of 'muzzling free speech' over efforts to stop Palestine Expo

Organisers of Palestine Expo in London say lobby group's complaint to owners of venue is a 'disturbing challenge to rule of law'
Palestine Expo was launched in 2017 (Twitter/@FriendsofAlAqsa)

The organisers of a Palestinian cultural festival in London have accused a pro-Israel lobbying group of attempting to "stifle free speech" after it approached the owners of the venue hosting the event to urge them to cancel it.

The event, Palestine Expo, is due to take place at London's Olympia conference centre on Saturday and Sunday. Organisers Friends of al-Aqsa (FOA), a UK-based pro-Palestinian NGO, describe it as the "biggest Palestine event in Europe" which "proudly celebrates Palestinian art, history and culture".

In a statement on Tuesday, UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) said it had contacted the Olympia venue to ask to them cancel the event. When it refused to do so, UKLFI said it had written to Olympia's three German co-owner companies to raise its concerns.

Pal Expo: The biggest Palestine event in Europe
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It also said it had cited a motion passed in the German parliament in May which condemned the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as antisemitic. 

UKLFI said the co-owners were now putting pressure on the venue to either cancel the event, or to put pressure on FOA to "curb their advocacy of BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] and hate speech".

But FOA said in a statement sent to Middle East Eye that it had not been contacted by any "institutes, authorities or companies" regarding the event. Nor had UKLFI contacted it directly, it said.

It also questioned why UKLFI had cited the German parliamentary motion, which it said was non-binding and had been criticised by Israeli academics, in a complaint about an event being held in the UK.

"UKLFI’s failed attempts to close down a totally legitimate event in London presents a disturbing challenge for the rule of law in Britain. The attempt to enlist a foreign parliament’s motion to restrict freedom of expression in the UK undermines the rights of British citizens," it said.

FOA said any attempt to curb freedom of expression would also affect Israeli speakers at the event including Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy, historian Ilan Pappe and Youssef Jabareen, a member of the Israeli parliament. Other speakers include Middle East Eye Editor David Hearst.

“Palestine Expo is proud to announce we are an inclusive group and seek to continue our efforts to bring about justice for the Palestinians,” said Ismail Patel, FOA's chair.

“Palestine Expo is open to all. We hope our visitors will provide the testimony to our inclusive and equitable approach to end the occupation and the suffering of the Palestinians.”

Palestine Expo was launched two years ago. FOA then complained that the event had been targeted in a "smear campaign" by pro-Israel lobbyists. It says it nonetheless attracted 15,000 people in its first year.